My new tarp and underquilt, and some new rain gear arrived Monday (May 21). I’d been able to clear my schedule for a couple of days, all I needed was a plan for a short gear testing trip.
Ginger was very busy (and is obviously much more conscientious than I am) so it will be another solo hike. I didn’t fancy fighting with a massive tangle of snakey undergrowth, so Piney Creek was not an option. I wanted to get around ten miles under my belt on this trip, so I decided to stick with Hercules Glades. I picked a route starting at Coy Bald, heading north to the Pilots, and then taking the Tower Trail east, then taking the Middle Trail south towards Long Creek and The Falls. I’d spend the night somewhere along Long Creek and hike back via the Coy Bald Trail. That works out at a tad over ten miles and has a few reasonable climbs. The only problems I could think of were weather-based. A sudden storm (and we’ve been having a lot of them) could make the ford on the approach to the Coy Bald Trailhead impassable, and if Long Creek was running high I might have problems crossing it. So my backup plan was to either go in via the Blair Ridge Trailhead, or (more likely) the further away Tower Trailhead. From either, I should still be able to fit in a 10-mile hike.
My pack weighed in at 20lbs with food, but sans water. I need to check out some of the extras I’m carrying and cut it down again – I ought to be able to get it down to 18lbs. The weight of the new rain gear (a Sea to Summit poncho) shown on Amazon is an annoyingly inaccurate 3.52oz. It’s actually over 14.6oz, which is still a lot less than my other waterproofs (27.5oz), but I was hoping it was going to be a lightweight (8oz or so), throw in your pack and forget item.
Shortly after 10 a.m. Tuesday I was crossing the ford on Cross Timbers road. The creek was running fast but not deep. Good news, I should not have any problems with creek crossings unless there was some heavy rain and flash floods.
There were a couple of vehicles at the trailhead, but the occupants had not signed in, so I had no idea where they might be in the wilderness, or how long they were going to be there. By 10:30 a.m. I had signed in and was off down the trail. One problem with being the first person along the trail is having to deal with all the spider webs spread across the trail to capture unwary hikers. The good news is that it implies that there’s no one ahead of you on the trail. Or does it? We’ll see.
Getting near Long Creek I could hear voices, and there were several people and a couple (or more, I didn’t look too closely) tents at the spot at the bottom of the hill, to the left of the trail. That explained the vehicles at the trailhead. I said my “Good morning … ” and kept going. I dropped off the trail to visit the bluffs located by Long Creek here, and I was rather put out by seeing dozens of small (and large) cairns littering — and I use the word advisedly — the area. They made it impossible to get all the pictures I wanted, and I had to frame some pictures awkwardly to keep the darned things out of the frame.
I have no problem with a bit of fun, but these cairns are popping up all over the wildernesses like a plague of mushrooms on steroids. It used to be that cairns were only used to mark trail branches or points of interest. Now they seem to just appear at random. After having a grump and taking my pictures I high-tailed it across Long Creek and up that bloody hill that marks the southern end of the Lower Pilot Trail (and yes I was carrying water, though only two liters — 4.8lbs).
I must be getting better at this hiking thing, as I only stopped once to catch my breath, and it seemed like next to no time before I was emerging from the ridge onto the glades. Out in the sunshine, it was hot. 86°F hot. I was thinking that some of the showers that were predicted might be quite welcome.
Near the northern end of the Lower Pilot Trail, I spotted a lot of feral hog damage. It’s the first signs of hogs I’ve seen at Hercules Glades. I reported it to MDC when I got back, and I was told that they’ve been trapping hogs on the glades and on adjacent property. If you see signs of hogs report it to MDC so that they can try and get rid of them.
The hike east along the Tower Trail was uneventful, I was last on this trail in March. By 1:30 p.m. I’d arrived at the north end of the Middle Trail, and I set off downhill (yay!) towards Long Creek and The Falls.
Along this trail I met up with three groups of students, complete with clipboards and compasses. The groups varied in size from around eight people to a single individual. They were all part of a group of geology students out of MSU on a field trip. I was told there was around 18 of them out on the trails.
I was starting to think that any chances of having some peace and solitude on this trip were rapidly diminishing, especially as later on, while walking the last bit of the trail to The Falls, I noticed some people alongside the creek, and I could hear a dog and more people at The Falls themselves.
I went straight past The Falls (which weren’t running) and carried on to what I call the ‘Upper Campsite’ We last stayed here in September 2012. There was no one around and after a bit of a reconnoiter further along the trail, I picked my spot and took my time setting my new tarp and underquilt up for the first time.
It was very simple, but I’d not looked at either item when they arrived. I’d done some research on YouTube about setting up the underquilt, so I didn’t make too much of a mess of it.
At this point I started to write up some of my thoughts on hammock camping. That ended up being a whole post of its own … back to the trip.
The Falls are a really popular draw, and get very busy, so the impact on the area is huge. I was quite impressed by the lack of litter and mess, though it was obvious that many trees have been cut down — some to make furniture. One good thing about all the foot traffic was that it meant there was very little grass for the ticks to hide in. Even so they were out in legions, and I lost count of how many I eradicated. Despite using Deet and careful checking. I still managed to bring several home.
As the afternoon drew on the people disappeared until I finally had the place to myself. Which was good, as I filled up with water, and then had a (cold) bath. There was very little wood to be found (the word denuded springs to mind), but I managed a small fire to smoke some of the mozzies and bugs away.
For this trip I experimented with transferring my Mountain House meal out of the packet and into a Ziploc bag. It was very effective, and something I’ll be doing in future. No sharp edges (the edges of the Mountain House packets are sharp — on our last trip they punctured the Ziploc bag holding our dessert!). The Ziploc bag was smaller and more flexible, so I could roll the top down, making eating the meal easier.
By 10:00 p.m. I was in bed. My first time in the hammock without a pad, and with an underquilt. Oh my, I was surprised how different it was. Not unexpectedly, the hammock wraps itself around you, and the underquilt keeps you toasty. laying on your side is fine, as is laying on your back. Laying diagonally keeps you surprisingly flat and straight. This set up gets a huge thumbs up from me, now I just need the chance to get out more often, though the unusually hot weather we are having seems to be against that.
The day’s total: 6.3 miles with 835′ climbed and 972′ of descent, all with the temps in the mid-eighties.
I slept in, finally waking up just before 8:00 a.m. surprised to see someone out walking their dog. So surprised that I didn’t say anything, and they quickly turned around and went back the way they’d come. That’s another reason why I’d much rather bushwhack well off the trail and wild camp a long way from the popular haunts.
I spent a very leisurely morning sitting enjoying the view, and playing with my gear. After I’d taken the tarp and hammock down I tried setting up my rain poncho as a tarp. Set high enough to sit under, I think the rain would be able to get under it quite easily. Set much lower and you’d have to lie down. From the sounds of distant (and not so distant) thunder I might well have a chance to try it out on my hike out.
I was all packed up and on my way shortly before Midday. As the falls weren’t running I was tempted to not bother stopping there. However, I decided to get a few photographs of the area, even if pretty pictures of cascading water were out of the question.
My trip back was as planned, via the Coy Bald Trail, which quickly rises out Long Creek’s hollow, and then goes along a ridge before skirting Coy Bald and returning to the trailhead. Hearing the thunder, I didn’t want to get caught on the top of the ridge if a thunderstorm hit, and planned to retreat rapidly downhill if that happened. The last time I sat out a storm near the Coy Bald trail, the weather radio gave us a tornado warning, and one passed by several miles to the north.
Back to the current hike, and again I surprised myself by being able to climb the hills with very few pauses. To try and keep ahead of the storms I was traveling quite quickly, though that was soon offset by stopping to take pictures along the way.
I arrived back at the trailhead just after two. Four miles in two hours is fairly speedy going for me — I usually travel at an average of 1.1 miles per hour (that allows for photo stops, and other bits of exploring along the way).
The day’s total: 4 miles with 691′ climbed and 540′ of descent, with the temps mainly in the upper-eighties.
And the rain? It rained hard about twenty minutes after I’d started driving home, and lasted most of the (hour-long) drive back.
The tarp and underquilt were great, though I’ve yet to put any tarp through its paces in bad weather. However, I’m very glad to see the back of the big and heavy polypropylene tarp, and the sleeping pad.
I took a new 6′ x 3′ Tyvek ground sheet, and that was a great improvement over the smaller size I’ve been using up to now. I should have changed that up ages ago.
The jury is still out on the rain poncho, it’s a lot heavier than I expected. I had hoped that it was going to be a drop in my pack and forget item, but right now, I’m not too sure. We’ll see.I also bought a new tripod head before this trip, and I was able to give it a go. It worked just as expected and it’s good to have a small tripod with me. I’ll probably use it more on the next trip. This time I forgot I had it until the start of the second day.
As I mentioned in the beginning, I’m going to have to take stock and see what else I can drop from my pack as I still want to reduce my pack weight and size further. As the amount I have to carry reduces, one way to save weight may involve a smaller pack. Reducing weight is one thing, but I’m not prepared to give up on my luxuries — though I’m not quite sure what classes as a luxury anymore, or even if I have any of those left! Indulgences might be a better term than luxuries at this point.